Fire

Palm readers and prophets are easy to regard with skepticism and disbelief. However, in times of uncertainty and fear, they are sought out to provide clarity, to provide comfort. Skepticism only to reappear when the words of comfort seem unneeded, when wisdom seems to be something we can conjure from our own understanding of the day to day; of a future we believe ourselves in control.

Whether you’re looking for a prophet or finding wisdom in the day to day – the world, right now, is in turmoil. Falling apart because there is no shared, and practiced, understanding of Truth; because Mercy and Grace are words and names, which don’t evoke any specific actions. Things we pray for, but cannot fully emulate, nor imagine. In the midst in a global pandemic, about which there are as many conspiracy theorists as there are scientists, an upheaval of the deeply embedded race struggles in our country are being brought to the surface, and we are reeling.

A few weeks ago, I started reading Stamped by Ibram X. Kendi, and Jason Reynolds. I picked it up, along with three other titles, because I was looking for books that would align nicely with an 8th grade history and english curriculum. I’ve read it alongside other reading for the past weeks and have loved the voice of the authors and the tone of the narrative. It is brutal and true historical information and it outlines the cultural evolution and entrenchedness of racism in our country without pointing fingers at any specific modern audience. Instead, it provides space for readers to poke holes in and pose questions to the possible lies they’ve grown up knowing to be true – whether consciously or subconsciously. Given the current state of our nation, I recommend you go out and pick up this book – or talk to some friends – or find a historian. Find someone who will question your skepticism.

The last 3 days have brought into sharp relief the need for true, culture shifting, conversations. Not just a call to arms in protest on social media or at your front door – though, those actions may call out the conversation – we need a change that is real and recognized by everyone. We need a revolution that provides a new vision of what it means to live in a Free country, as Free people. The murder of a man may have been the catalyst for the current rioting and protesting now happening, but the gunpowder and landmines were already set in place – dug into the bedrock of our cultural zeitgeist long before his horribly tragic death.

I write all of this because I need to write it down. I need to process and recognize how broken we are, how broken the world is. I need to recognize how, historically, we have not healed wounds, but hid them, and that as the world now bleeds and burns, we are longing for that Grace, and Mercy, and Truth – that we don’t know how to extend, nor receive.

The conspiracies and riots seem timely as I read and pray and know that tomorrow is Pentecost. That may sound callous, but I don’t mean it to. The world is literally on fire as we enter pentecost, and it would appear that what we need is a host of voices who can translate the hurt and the love, the devastation of real people, and the Grace and Mercy needed to heal – tongues of fire to quench the thirst of a people just trying to find Truth.

It is necessary to stand against injustice, to actively care for and love every neighbor. And yet, our history and our present clearly show that we do not know how to do these things. In the stories about pentecost, Jesus gathers the disciples and breathes on them – imparting a blessing, a sending, and the Holy Spirit to accompany them along the way.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

John 20: 21 – 23 (Bible, NIV)

Just like Grace and Mercy and Truth – this blessing and spirit were not visible – perhaps the disciples did not even feel any sort of change – but they had a charge, and they had a promise. They also had a little warning – if they forgive, forgiveness will be extended and returned; if they hold onto the sins( or hold onto the grudge or hate) that’s what will be extended and returned. That final statement, to me, feels like a calling out of our broken human nature – our need for justice and the want to see the justice done by our understanding. Scary to hold the power to grow forgiveness or hatred amongst the people around you. Scary to know that we do not, and will not, always make the choice to forgive.

In another part of the story (Acts 2), a violent wind shook the place, and then tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the people, allowing them to speak each other’s language – to tell stories and to prophesy in a way that was understood by the entire crowd. In every language, the power of God was announced and his love and Grace revealed so that all could believe – so that everyone could know salvation – so that everyone could receive the charge and the promise given to the disciples. They were given a common goal and purpose and hope in life. Even then, with fire, and wind, and a breaking of language barriers, there were people who were skeptical of the prophets – asking whether they were drunk rather than truly speaking in a way one might understand.

There will always be skeptics. There will always be hatred and mistrust. It doesn’t mean you don’t engage in the conversations. It doesn’t mean you give up or turn away. It means we understand that we, too, are sent – and we have an option – peace or war – forgiveness or hatred – justice or injustice. Lean in. Love your neighbor. Hug your kids, or your partner, or your dog or cat. Be a part of the conversation and the culture shift, it can’t be up to everyone else to change the narrative.

Before the quote I included above from John, the chapter states that the disciples were hiding – afraid that they would be killed by the same people who had killed Jesus. When Jesus arrived and convinced them that he was the same man they’d seen killed on a cross, his words “Peace be with you” act as a pacification – a “Do not be afraid” – and the promise of the Spirit assures them that they will not be alone. Effectively, he’s pulling them out of hiding and setting them on a dangerous path – one where their words may cause forgiveness or hatred. Either way, they had to get out of hiding, out of their comfort zone, and clearly, we need to as well.

So I’ll end my rambling by linking some songs – for me, reminders in the midst of hatred, that we’re not alone in the want for forgiveness, and the need for Mercy and Grace – and just because promises aren’t visible, doesn’t mean they’re unTrue.

Music for Pentecost: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2Edcano4TwFWVJsUoaRXmr?si=MfoA53AJSZi4O0qHd5cEmw